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Looking Back From the 1980s At Computers In Education 269

Posted by timothy
from the gee-whiz dept.
xzvf writes "As someone who went to high school in the '80s, this newsletter from 1980 (PDF) is a blast from the past. An interview with Microsoft talks up its BASIC language product and predicts voice control of computers in five years. Advertisements for Compute magazine, which was about to go monthly, and an article about a computer 'network' in Minnesota that connects some fax machine-looking terminal to a central computer over telephone lines. Lots of Atari, TI and RadioShack news too. It's a reminder from 30 years ago that we are still not using technology effectively in education."
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Looking Back From the 1980s At Computers In Education

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  • A super calculator (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RobertinXinyang (1001181) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:43PM (#31192392)

    When I was in High School, back in the 80's, students were not allowed to use a computer unless they had completed Algebra 2 and were enrolled in Trig or calculus. Th reasoning was that computers were super calculators and, as such, the only students that needed them were advanced math students.

    I was allowed in the computer lab, all Apple IIs', as long as I was there with an authorized student; however, I was not allowed to actually touch a computer. This created a procedure where I, and other interested students, would write out our programs on paper and then hand them to another, authorized, student, to type in to the computer.

    Fortunately, an accountant I knew got an Apple II to run Visacalc on. I was then able to us a computer all I wanted so long as I was able to use the spreadsheet when he needed something set up on it.

  • Retro Computer News (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:52PM (#31192512) Journal

    If you like this, check out the Computer Chronicles [archive.org] the archive is hosting. It's always neat to see people reacting to old technology like it's new. Funny to hear the predictions that pan out, and even funnier to see the ones that don't. Check out the UNIX episode, a lot of what they say about UNIX applies to Linux today.

    You can also find scans of some classic computer magazines at Atari Magazines [atarimagazines.com] and Old Computer Mags [old-computer-mags.com].

  • Re:Effectively? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by moteyalpha (1228680) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:54PM (#31192534) Homepage Journal
    I wish we had this from MIT when I was in school. http://web.sls.csail.mit.edu/lectures/ [mit.edu] Strang, Lewin and others are really good teachers UCLA and Stanford also have on line courses.
  • 1968 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by careysb (566113) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:55PM (#31192540)
    I was lucky enough to attend one of the only high schools in the country with access to computers in 1968. We had a teletype style terminal connected by acoustic modem to a mainframe; Fourtran 44. The teachers were pretty clueless about the technology but give a bunch of hungry kids manuals and access and stand back.
  • Re:Effectively? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @06:59PM (#31192586) Homepage Journal

    >>Does anybody actually believe that we have progressed significantly in our use of tech to educate? I sure don't.

    I work in the field of education and technology, and I think most research efforts have shown, by and large, adding computers to something doesn't help. In fact, a lot of the time it hurts education.

    Mainly this is because educators throw kids in front of a computer and tell them to "research their paper" or something like that, and 3.02 seconds later the kids are all on ESPN.com or IMing each other.

    Computers should be used in education when there is a real reason to do so. Want to show kids what life was like in San Francisco before and after the Great Fire a bit over 100 years ago? Textbooks can't do that nearly as well as the primary source video footage taken in 1905 and 1906.

    But the way most teachers use it, it's just counterproductive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 18, 2010 @07:13PM (#31192722)

    http://www.boingboing.net/2010/02/17/school-used-student.html

  • Whitehead (Score:5, Interesting)

    by quotes (1738456) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @07:17PM (#31192774)
    "Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them. " Alfred North Whitehead
  • Re:Excellent! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RDW (41497) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @07:56PM (#31193300)

    Of course it were all fields around here back then...

    Back in the early 80s when Clive Sinclair's little 8-bit 'micros' were all the rage in the UK, when data storage was on cassette and portable TVs stood in for monitors, 'Sinclair User' magazine used to run a column called 'Sinclairvoyance' (geddit?), which predicted how the White Heat of cheap British computer technology would revolutionise all our lives:

    http://www.sincuser.f9.co.uk/ [f9.co.uk]

    Their predictions about educations were rather wide of the mark (at least so far):

    http://www.sincuser.f9.co.uk/006/sincvoy.htm [f9.co.uk]

    'Once the home [computer] schooling idea was accepted, however, the costs of providing education would fall dramatically. Almost the whole of the present system would no longer be needed, with consequent savings in wages and building and maintenance costs. Teachers would be replaced by a handful of people responsible for setting and updating the cassettes and marking the examination cassettes. None of the thousands of ancillary staff - caretakers, cleaners and cooks - would be needed. School transport would become a thing of the past and crossing patrols would no longer halt traffic at the busy times of the day. Additionally, vast areas of land would become available for development.'

    To be fair, they recognised some of the problems with this idea:

    'Schools are much more than places for learning the subjects which appear in the curriculum. They are a major stage in learning social skills. All children make friends in their neighbourhood but most friends are made at school. They also gain by having contact with others from different backgrounds. There are sufficient problems in the world caused by a lack of understanding between groups of people without increasing the divisions by removing an effective way of bringing people together.'

    Some of their other predictions seem rather more prescient, if you replace 'Prestel' with 'Web' and 'Sinclair' with 'PC'. From 1982:

    http://www.sincuser.f9.co.uk/005/sincvoy.htm [f9.co.uk]

    'The Typical-Sinclair-Users select a group of holidays in which they are interested and request more details. Those arrive on the screen immediately and are printed out...They make their booking, paying the deposit by debiting their bank account directly by Prestel...As the time for the holiday approaches the TSU family, between playing the latest game of aliens and keeping their household accounts in order, check the weather conditions at their chosen resort and the strength of the peseta against the pound - all available through Prestel...As the TSUs hate shopping, having to push their way through the crowds, they decide to buy all their holiday clothes and equipment by mail order, again using Prestel...The luggage consists of the usual suitcases but also includes a large black briefcase. When they arrive at the airport, they find many other families have the same black briefcases. All are treated with great care, are taken inside the aircraft as hand luggage and stored carefully under the seats...On reaching their hotel everyone immediately rushes to their rooms, where the secret of the black box is revealed. Inside there is a complete Sinclair computer system...The following day the TSU family goes to the beach and, in common with many others, they take their briefcase and spend half the day enjoying the sun, sea and sand and the other half playing with the Sinclair...The case also contains a device which allows the Typical-Sinclair-Users to contact their neighbours via the telephone service or collect any recorded messages on their telephone answering service...If this sounds a little far-fetched, as though the Sinclairvoyance crystal ball is even less clear than usual, consider that most of the items are already in existence and are available either for the Sinclair machines or can be adapted from hardware available with other computers.'

  • by John Whitley (6067) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @08:10PM (#31193442) Homepage

    Computers are not fairy dust. One does not sprinkle "computers" on a problem to make the problem go away. They are simply tools that can be applied to solve a wide variety of problems -- but only work well when a real-world problem domain is understood by those attempting a solution. So much of "computers in education" have been ill-informed stabs in the dark by those who either don't understand the problem (and therefore relevant solutions) and/or who simply want to make money by selling solutions without regard to problems.

    That said, computers are already transforming education because we're finally at the point where we can change the affordances of education. Consider the experience of having both good vs bad instructor/professors. As online video and remote classroom technologies improve, we're increasingly able to simply put all of the students in "the good prof's class" -- even though he or she is on the other side of the continent. You could be in the Big Lecture Hall with the bad prof, or have a world-class "+5 Insightful" instructor available via your computer. For live classes, this comes with the same Q&A opportunities as a standard classroom (more tech well-applied). For previously recorded classes, students get the benefit of review opportunities that never existed in a traditional class. Or in many cases, students can attend a live lecture with complete "recall" of the lecture material provided by increasingly good online presentation of the lecture video and notes.

  • by tool462 (677306) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @09:28PM (#31194170)

    I remember my formal education with computers in the 80s being the "training" you describe. When we went to computer lab it was to practice touch-typing and 10-key. The educators I had in the 80s could only imagine the computer as a replacement for the typewriter or adding machine. We were only taught how to enter data fast and accurately. A useful skill, sure, but teaches you no more about computers than teaching penmanship improves your writing.

    My real computer education didn't begin until my dad brought home an Apple Macintosh (1984!), loaded up TrueBasic and set me loose.

  • by schon (31600) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @09:49PM (#31194384)

    Funny thing..

    The computers in my house all run Slackware. When my daughter was 6 months, my wife tried to get her interested in using the computer - flash animations, music, sound, etc. My daughter had zero interest.

    Then when as my wife was shutting down, the computer switched to text mode, and my daughter went nuts giggling and cooing at the screen. She loved watching the console text scrolling, and was disappointed when it stopped. So my wife started it up again, and as soon as the console came up, my daughter again switched to "fascination" mode until X started up.

    She's 4 now, and isn't quite as fascinated by the text mode as she was, but she still loves watching the MythTV box boot when she turns it on to watch SuperWhy or Dragon Tales.

  • by mikael (484) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @09:52PM (#31194414)

    My school (1980-1986) was like that. While the sports team had their own mini-van, and the language department had their own language studio (30 wooden-panel kiosks with a built in tape-desk control and a set of headphones), the computer lab had two Apple ][ computers, one of which had a color screen and printer. This was mainly due to the academic background of the principal - when he retired, he was replaced by someone specializing in educational IT.

    Assignments in the final year consisted of writing 10-line BASIC programs. At the time I left, the two Apple ]['s had been replaced by a BBC Acorn Econet, which was a network ring of RS232 that tied the computers into a topological ring. Wiring diagrams showed the best topologies for fitting computers into odd shaped classrooms using Koch curve patterns. Just about every student had their own home computer (BBC, Commodore 64, Dragon, ZX Spectrum, Atari) and were writing their own 100+ line programs, including assembler language. BYTE magazine from that time had educators mourning about the lack of decent IT education in schools. Logo was the recommended programming language of the time.

  • by sharkbiter (266775) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @10:20PM (#31194694)

    I forgot about that period of time. In 1981 I bought a VIC-20 (don't laugh) for 90 dollars at K-Mart. By the time I got to Japan in 1984, I had a C64 with cassette and 12 inch color monitor. While in Japan, I built several Apple II/][+ knockoffs for friends with parts purchased in Akihabura. I considered it game over in 1986 as the Amiga 1000 that I'd acquired, was slowly being overtaken by the IBM architecture (can you say "yuck!"?), with EGA graphics then VGA graphics and soundblaster cards. It's utterly amazing that the Van Neumann architecture continues to rule the computer roost.

    My point here is that in the 70's, there was Apple and mainframes. By the 80's there were arcade consoles, home computers and the like. By 1988, there was Apple and IBM architecture. All the other computers were dust-binned or in the case of the Amiga soon to be. In a span of 10 years, we saw an entire generation of thought become obsolete. What a time in history!

  • Early '90s (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kenshin (43036) <kenshin AT lunarworks DOT ca> on Thursday February 18, 2010 @10:38PM (#31194882) Homepage

    My first year in high school was in a shiny new building with nice computer labs full of 386s with Windows 3.1. (Although, I tended to gravitate to the one room with the few Macs when I could.)

    Back then you couldn't lock everything down on the desktop, so we managed to explore every nook and cranny of Windows. The real challenge to us was the network, since it was locked down pretty well. I got on some sort of blacklist at one point for hanging around with kids who'd managed to hack the network. Eventually I managed to get into the computer office on a regular basis and even set up a rudimentary web server, once we'd integrated the internet and installed an ISDN line. They even let my plug in a phone line and RAS from home for free net access when I finally got my own computer. (My mom got that perk cut-off by abusing the RAS during school hours...)

    Of course, back then, computer labs had an entirely different purpose than they have now. They taught you how to use and get familiar with computers, since most families did not have one at home. Nowadays they're just where kids go to check their Facebook.

  • by mikael (484) on Thursday February 18, 2010 @11:47PM (#31195408)

    In 1981 I bought a VIC-20 (don't laugh) for 90 dollars at K-Mart.

    I remember the Autumn evening at high-school when one of the other students brought in a ZX-79 he had bought and assembled - the white box with the touchpad keys. With the computer, on one of the wooden physics lab desks around the perimeter of the classroom, he plugged the video cable into an old monitor that was in the lab, the screen lit up and the next thing he was loading in game files from a tape recorder - for me, that was the day the home computer revolution started. That year, I got an Atari 800 with 48K memory, a few years later, an Atari 800XL with a 4.25" disk drive, the mini graphics-tablet. I made some controllers using light sensors and an old telephone dial.

    (can you say "yuck!"?),
    Yes, the first CGA/EGA PC's seemed a backward step compared to home computers at the time. Though, the game programmer in me says that it is the challenge of squeezing out every clock cycle of performance is the goal. Still, looking back, it was a pain having to wait four years for PC's to catch up to the GUI window systems like the Atari ST/Amiga.

    In a span of 10 years, we saw an entire generation of thought become obsolete. What a time in history!
    It was definitely an amazing time. TV programmes like "Tomorrows World" promised us a future digital world of CD-players, lasers and computers like the morrow-morrow-land story of Mad Max. Now we are there in the digital city, with laptops, wi-fi base stations, stereographic 3D TV, gigahertz PC's, satellite phones, GPS navigators, Internet, on-demand video and mobile phones with animated 3D visuals.

  • Geezer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oilyfishhead (1618365) on Friday February 19, 2010 @08:19AM (#31197898)
    When I was in high school in the early 70s, we had a terminal (teletype) connect to a HP3000F through a 110 baud, acoustic coupled, modem. It ran HP time-shared BASIC. There was 4 or 5 of us that figured out how to make it work. In '74 they offered a "Computer Science" class. In the 1st 6 weeks of the class we had 5 teachers and none of them new squat about a computer. We had to teach them how to work the terminal. Easy A though. ;-) Of course we had to walk 10 miles to school, in the snow, up hill, both ways.........
  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday February 19, 2010 @12:13PM (#31200218)
    To garner social and investor support for their new media inventions, inventors almost always tout "educational applications" whether these materialize or not. This is how Thomas Edison promoted his phonograph and motion picture projector. Usually the public is enthralled by the new media and spends excessive money on it. Then the old media condemns the new media as "idle entertainment". On the dark side, porn is often an early adapter of new media, e.g. ecommerce and net streaming. The debate continues into this year, 140 years after the phonograph, as some people condemn the movie Avatar (which may be the "breakthrough 3D movie") as an expensive time-waster.

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